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Memorial Day is the perfect time to remember the importance of genealogy and family history research

By Barry Ewell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, May 25 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Flags line the headstones at Historic Fort Douglas Cemetery during Memorial Day celebrations at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City in May 2008.

Ashley Lowery, Deseret News archive

Memorial Day is a federal holiday that is celebrated each year on the final Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it was established after the U.S. Civil War on May 5, 1868, to remember the men and women who died while serving in the armed forces. Decoration Day referred to the practice of laying or decorating flowers on graves to remember the fallen soldiers of the Civil War and as a sign of healing. The name Memorial Day was first used in 1888, and after World War I was extended to honor all Americans who died while in military service.

Today many people visit cemeteries and memorials to remember friends and family members on Memorial Day. They place flowers on graves and take a moment to ponder memories, share heartfelt feelings, and bow in reverence to those who have been laid to rest.

It's a time of renewing relationships with the past and present.

As individuals come to the cemetery to pay their respects, sometimes having traveled hundreds of miles, Memorial Day can take on the character of a family reunion. Often people meet by chance as they have come to the cemetery and renew relationships and share the memories of those who have brought them together by chance on a spring day.

Many communities have parades. Volunteers place American flags on the graves of soldiers. Sunrise military services are held at the cemetery with a flag briskly hoisted. Churches hold special services. And family members gather for potluck dinners. Those are but a few of the many things that happen during Memorial Day weekend.

Discovering the story of you

We all have many questions about those who have gone before us. The steps of the journey toward learning more about our progenitors are guided by the questions we ask. With each answer comes another question. In time, a sense of connection and a bond that spans generations begins. Each individual ancestor contributed in some way to your very existence.

This journey will lead researchers to discover, uncover and recover the one-of-a-kind story of the ancestral lines whose path leads directly to their own. An ancestors' path is forged by time, choices and life experiences that begin in the home and expand into the lands where they lived. It's about the people known, the places visited, the decisions made, the opportunities lost or gained; it's about the spiritual, physical and mental exuberance and folly.

Family members learn of important events such as birth, marriage and death. An ancestor's story is influenced by culture, religion, political endeavors, education and social and economic status. Those delving into the lives of those who have gone before them gain a front-row seat to the historical events that surrounded members of a family, from war and migration to famine and struggles for civil rights.

Do not underestimate the value of an ancestors' story or the story you are currently living. Every story is important and unique, if for no other reason than the fact that these people lived.

My journey as a genealogist has not been easy. I wanted to quit countless times. Yet there was always a gentle and loving force that seemed to encourage — if not compel — me to find my ancestral lines. With experience and focused persistence, the journey became easier, increasingly successful, and more rewarding. I've learned how to do the following:

Ask the right questions to be led to answers.

Find, access and explore genealogical resources quickly.

Develop, expand and sharpen my genealogy research skills.

Recognize clues and use them to trace and explore my family ties.

Resolve genealogical "brick walls."

Effectively use technology in research and preservation.

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